Five figures reined their steeds to a halt on the crest of a hill as they viewed the carnage of the village below.  The middle horse a beige Belgian war stallion pranced down the hill in the lead.  Seiji slowed the stallion as they came to the fringes of the entrance.  A black Friesian mare stopped beside the war stallion.  Perched atop was Rowen’s thin form.  He looked at Seiji with a frown.  The devastation was far worse than the reports had read.  A roan Euro-Arab war stallion raced to Seiji’s other side, it was Ryo who hung his head mournfully.  A gray Arabian mare took its position by the Friesian.  Cye’s head was bowed in mourning as he silently recited the rites of the dead for the villages unfortunate enough not to make it through.  A light brown Bay with a black mane and tail came to the Euro-Arabs’ side.  Shuu’s eyes burned with rage for the lost.

            Ashes and burned pieces of wood were the only markers left of what had been huts and houses.  Bodies of the dead villagers piled everywhere.  Shuu’s brow furrowed with anger.  Wordlessly, Ryo and Rowen dismounted and entered the village grounds in hope of finding any survivors at all.  Seiji and Cye dismounted and waited for the others to get back, they would give medical attention to any survivors.  The other villages, which had been attacked by the unknown force, had been burned and there had been some casualties but this…this was a massacre.  Shuu dismounted a moment later after drawing in his anger and joined the search.  Like Cye said, they didn’t know who had done this yet. 

            Shuu went into the houses, or at least the ones, which had somehow remained standing even though their straw roofs had been burned to cinders.  But he only found the houses empty not one person at all.  He searched for trapdoors beneath the floor that the people might have hidden in during the fighting.  No answers there either.  Disheartened Shuu walked out of the house only to see Rowen at the hut across the roadway examining the frame of the door.  Shuu looked up at the top of the wooden frame; the charred piece of oak was about to fall off!

            “Rowen, move!” shouted Shuu running forward.

            Rowen looked up confused as he heard Shuu shout.  Suddenly he felt he felt a very sharp pain to the top of his head and fell forward dizzily as the world turned black.  The last thing he was aware of was that Shuu was yelling for Seiji.

            Ryo, on the far side of the village, heard a small sneezing sound as he passed a hay cart.  Curious yet ready for anything Ryo dumped the cart over spilling it’s contents.  Ryo drew in a surprised breath at the site of a young woman and a little kid covered in hay.  They cringed close together.

            “Hello.” Said Ryo extending a hand with a warm smile, “Sorry I frightened you.”

            The girl cautiously looked up at him, “You are one of the Knights?”

            “Yes.” Said Ryo as he helped the girl and the child to their feet, “Ryo of Rekka, left hand of Seiji-sama.  Nice to meet you.”

            “I’m Mia.  And this is Jun.” Said Mia who was still shaking.  Ryo couldn’t blame her, she was probably still in shock.  The child was silent.

            “Come on, let’s get you back to the others.  We’ll take you back to the castle; you’ll be safe there.” Said Ryo walking the two back to where Cye and Seiji were, “Do you know if there are any other survivors?”

            “No, there are no others.” Said Mia shaking her head, “I only found Jun after…after…”

            Ryo stopped walking as Mia started crying, “I’m sorry I shouldn’t have asked…”

            “It’s ok…she’s like that.” Said the child, “Don’t feel bad.”

            When they got back to the place of entry Ryo only saw Cye there fidgeting.  He looked around; Seiji wasn’t there.

            “Rowen had an accident.” Said Cye interpreting Ryo’s questioning stare, “Seiji-sama went to take care of him.”

            “I found these two.” Said Ryo then whispering to Cye, “They are the only survivors.”

            “Alright.” Said Cye, “Go ahead and take them back to the castle.  I’ll tell Shuu then join you.  The others will come when Rowen is taken care of.”

            “Hai.” Said Ryo as he put the two on the back of his horse and started off.

            Rowen found himself standing in the midst of a beautiful city, which seemed completely made of crystal.  Everything seemed so bright; the air was crisp and cold but it didn’t bother him, he had always liked the cold.  A wind rushed over him rustling his hair then he saw the smiling face of a tall blue haired woman looking down at him.  He smiled back at her; she seemed so familiar.  Then he walked to where the crystal city seemed to end and looked down.  Through the clouds he could see the small specks of what were supposed to be large villages and kingdoms on the ground.  They seemed so fascinating as if they were calling to him.  Curiosity called as he leaned closer to the edge of the crystal, he wanted to get closer to them.  A hand gently gripped his shoulder and pulled him away from the edge.  He looked up and saw that it was the woman again.  Her smile was warm.

            “Be careful that you do not fall, musuko.”   Son

            Then the dream changed and he was falling now.  The city was above him; turning into a little speck as he plummeted toward the ground below.  He clutched tightly to the book that he held in his hands to keep it from flying out of his grasp.  What had happened had he walked off the edge on accident?  The ground got closer...closer…

            Rowen bolted up and into Seiji’s embrace.  The older man was trying to keep Rowen from completely jumping up.  Rowen shouted still in the fear of his dream.

            “Calm down, calm down.  You’re all right, Rowen-kun.  You just took a hit to the head; we’re with you now so calm down.” Said Seiji in a soothing voice.

            Seiji put a hand to the back of Rowen’s head and put the blue haired forehead to his shoulder as the kid started crying.  Rowen was unknowingly holding on to Seiji like a lifeline but wasn’t all there enough to let go.  Seiji frowned down at Rowen worriedly; the boy was shaking uncontrollably.  He looked up at Shuu who was looking for all the world like it was his fault.

            “Shuu, it’s not your fault.” Said Seiji then seeing Cye approaching them, “Go see what Cye wants.”

            Seiji watched Shuu walk toward Cye then patted Rowen comfortingly on the back.  This reminded him of the many times that he had to calm Rowen after the kid had a nightmare of falling.  However not afraid of heights, Rowen was deathly afraid of falling.  It haunted his dreams constantly.  Once Seiji had intercepted one of the dreams through his power.  It wasn’t frightening at all but it had frightened Rowen more than anything that he had ever encountered.  Seiji listened as Rowen’s quick breaths slowed steadily until at last he was calm.  Seiji leaned back when Rowen finally released him.

            “Daijobu desu, ka.” Asked Seiji quietly.  Are you all right?

            “Tenku.” Said Rowen looking up at the sky as if dazed, “Okoku.”

            Seiji looked up at Rowen’s eyes; they seemed to be a little vacant and glazed over.  Seiji raised an eyebrow.  Rowen must still be in the daze from his concussion or the dream.  Seiji moved out of the way quickly as Rowen shot into the sky using his unique power over the wind to propel him skyward.  Seiji frowned and shaded his eyes as he watched Rowen’s form disappear in the clouds above.

            “Um…is he going to be ok?” asked Shuu looking into the sky as well.

            “Yes.  He’ll come back down in a while.  He never finds whatever it is he is looking for then always forgets later what it was.” Said Seiji almost sadly, “This happens all the time.”

            Suddenly a strange ringing sound echoed through the village.  Seiji and Shuu tensed readying for battle.  Their hands resting on their weapons ready for that unknown creature.  The clinking sounded again as it became closer.  Suddenly the form of a monk appeared walking over a hill.  The setting sun glinted off of the long staff that he carried.  It had a U shape near the head of the staff leaving two openings.  Wings formed from the top of the U and protruded from a circle, which was the top of the staff.  Four heavy rings hung from each of the two openings in the U.  The eight rings clattered with each step he took. 

            A large cone shaped hat shaded the upper part of his face hiding it from view.  His light green-white hair hung over his shoulders and onto his white and blue robes.  A tan pouch hung around his neck.  He came to a stop only a few feet in front of them.  Seiji’s hand rested on his sword hilt.

            “May I have a word, Seiji-sama of Korin no Akari.” Asked the man his voice pleasantly low.

            Seiji scanned the man with his power searching for ill intent but found none, “You may.” He answered.

            “Alone, preferably.” Said the man shifting toward Shuu.

            “Seiji-sama…” Shuu said under his breath awaiting an order.

            “Go, stay by Cye and the horses.” Said Seiji then turning to the monk after Shuu had left, “What is it?”

            “Come.” Said the monk as he moved to a large flat stone, “I have something for you.  It will help you in your fight ahead.”

            “Fight ahead?” asked Seiji.

            “It is not to ask questions now but to understand the present.  I will visit you again when the time is nigh.” Said the monk then he took a small palm sized box out of the tan pouch.  He laid it down on the rock in front of Seiji.  The box was small and red with a design of four diamonds on it, “Rekka no Yoroi.”  Armor of Rekka.

            “Yoroi?” asked Seiji confused.

            “They are mystical armors from ancient times.  Only with these will you be able to save your kingdom in the time to come.” Said the monk then putting a light blue box in front of him.  The symbol of a gold and black yin yang was on it, “Suiko no Yoroi.”

            “Konga no Yoroi.”  He placed an orange box on the stone.  It’s symbol…….(need a pic)

            “Tenku no Yoroi.”  A dark blue box was placed beside the others.  Its symbol was an arrowhead with three lines of motion, which seemed to push the arrowhead upward.  (Does this look like a squid to anyone else but me?)

            “Tenku?” repeated Seiji.  The word was familiar; he had read about it somewhere.

            “And Korin no Yoroi.” This box was a dark green with the symbol of a lightening bolt on it, “This one belongs to you.  Oji no Korin.”  Prince of Korin.

            Seiji looked down at the boxes then at the monk, “What do I do with them?”

            “You shall give them to four people close to you and the fifth keep for yourself.  Your dreams will show you the way.”  Then the monk disappeared as if he were never there.

            “Seiji-sama?” came Cye’s voice from over the way.  Seiji almost jumped as he heard his name called then gathering the boxes walked over to the others, ignoring their questions about the encounter.  They rode back to the castle, trying to beat the night sky.  Seiji loosed the black Friesian and took it with them as well.  Rowen would return to the castle on his own when he came to.

            Cye was worried about Seiji as they ate evening meal.  He didn’t speak and he barely touched his food at all.  He seemed to be deep in thought.  Rowen wasn’t at meal either; he had yet to return.  Shuu didn’t attend meal with the others; he was spending time stewing in his quarters.  Ryo was the only one who didn’t seem bothered or upset.  He was just his usual self.  Cye had to smile, Ryo was many things but he never let something bring him down when he needed to lighten everyone else’s spirits.  After meal he was going to try and talk Shuu into a game of swordplay.  That, Cye knew, would make Shuu feel better.  So it was up to him to talk to Seiji.  He cleared his throat.

            “Um, Seiji-sama.” Cye started, “What’s troubling you?”

            “Nothing.” Sighed Seiji resting his chin on his hands in thought.

            “Are you sure?” inquired Cye then smiling gently.

            Seiji looked up and smiled back, “Sorry to worry you Cye.  It’s nothing really.  Just…worried about the looming scent of war and what to do until we find out who has been staging these attacks.  The people will expect me to answer soon.  I just don’t know what to do.”

Cye smiled and pushing back his chair stood up.  He walked over to Seiji and put a hand on his friends shoulder, “Sleep on it.  I’m sure that you’ll make the right decision, the guys and me will back you all the way.”

            Seiji watched Cye walk out of the room and into the hall.  He smiled; it was good to know that his friends were backing him.  Sliding his chair back Seiji stood and walked out of the room.  He wandered out to the outer wall and leaned on it looking down at the Commons.  He wasn’t that far up and could see the people below rather well.  He smiled it was so much more peaceful out here.

            A small fire was in the middle of the square for it was dark; the night sky had already descended shading everything in its black velvet blanket.  People were cheering and laughing as they feasted and told stories.  They roared in laughter as the watched a wrestling match between two of the soldiers.  It took Seiji a minute before he realized who they were but he laughed when he did.  They were Ryo and Shuu.  Shuu had Ryo in a headlock and both were laughing merrily.  Byakuen strode up and sat upon both of them purring loudly.

            “Byakuen, not you, too!” Seiji heard Ryo laugh.

            “I think that I should put the tiger in your places.” Seiji called down, laughing, “He seems to be able to take down two Knights in one blow.”

            “Oi, Seiji-sama!” the two called up waving from the pile as a group of village kids joined Byakuen in the defeat of the great Knights.  Hey.

            Seiji waved back and laughed even more as the children pretended to be great warriors who had just defeated two of the most evil Knights in the realm.  Looking back at the castle Seiji saw a glimmer as the moon’s light reflected off of something on the highest tower top.  He smiled Rowen was back.  Taking one last look at the growing pile of laughter below Seiji took off for the tower to meet his friend.

            As Seiji climbed the last step to the tower’s top he could see Rowen floating several feet in the air cross-legged.  His back was turned to Seiji and his face turned toward the moon.  He seemed to be writing something in the large leather bound book, which was propped in his lap.  The quill pin in his hand moved quickly as he glanced up at the sky ever so often.  Seiji saw the glint again.  It was the moon’s light being reflected off of the glass in the wooden framed glasses, which were perched upon Rowen’s face.  Walking up quietly, Seiji stole a glance at the page Rowen was writing upon.  He was making a star map.

            “Kangei ie, Rowen-kun.” Said Seiji with a soft smile.  Welcome home.

            “Arigato, Seiji-sama.” Said Rowen as he turned closing the book and returning to the ground.  He seemed depressed despite his smile; Seiji frowned.  Thank you.

            “Nani fusei desu ka?” asked Seiji.  What’s wrong?

            “Nothing.” Lied Rowen still smiling.

            Seiji sighed, “Where did you end up this time?”

            “Solarin.” Said Rowen off handedly a frown threatening to break through his plastered smile.

            Seiji blinked; Solarin was half way across the continent.  Rowen had never gone that far before, “Did…” He stopped not wanting to ask but he knew he would have to anyway.  “Did you find whatever it was?”

            “No, I forgot.  I was so determined to find it.  All I can remember was wanting to find it.  Then it just snapped and I found myself over Solarin.” Rowen frowned sadly letting his masking smile fade away, “I wish I could remember, it just feels so important.  I can’t even remember what the dream was about.”

            “It’s alright, Rowen.” Said Seiji putting his arm around the kid’s shoulders.  He knew what Rowen’s dreams were about.  He just never told his friend that he had pried into his dreamscape on more than one occasion, “You will remember what it was.  Just give it time.”

            Another secret he kept from his friend was the he and Ryo spent all of their free time searching through ancient texts trying to find any reference to a crystal city in the sky.  He knew in his heart that it was the city that Rowen was looking for whenever he went into a daze.  No matter how impossible that it sounded for there to be such a city in existence he wanted to help his friend.  The only thing that was bothering Seiji was having to keep the secrets from Rowen but if he told him Rowen would be furious. 

            “Yeah, sure.  The day I remember anything will be the day the world explodes.” Rowen muttered then adding something Shuu had joked with him about once, “Must have fallen out of the sky and landed on my head.”

            “Maybe.” Seiji whispered in a low voice, thinking.

            “What was that, Seiji-sama?” asked Rowen looking up at Seiji as they descended the stairs together.

            “Nothing.” Said Seiji smiling then he chuckled.  Rowen’s eyes looked impossibly large through the magnified glass.

            “What?” asked Rowen in exasperation at Seiji’s laughter.

            “Nothing…Goddess eyes*.” Said Seiji trying to hold back his laughter.  *In certain mythologies Goddesses were said to have exceedingly large eyes*

            “YOU!!” shouted Rowen his face flushing over, “You’re no better than Shuu!”

            “Oh, really.  Goddess.” Said Seiji laughing then in one quick motion snatched the glasses while dodging a mock punch then running the rest of the way down the castle to the grounds with a red-faced Rowen chasing after him.  Ryo and Shuu met them on the Commons.  Shuu joined Seiji in taunting Rowen and Ryo teamed up with his best friend in fighting back against the two agitators.  Cye watched them all from the window of his room and laughed quietly.  The villagers hooted and hallooed making bets upon which team would win in the play fight.  Seiji was the only king that Cye knew that would be caught wrestling around in the dirt and hay of the common grounds.  With the help of Byakuen Ryo managed to pin Shuu and win his half of the fight.  Rowen would have won against Seiji but a group of children who were pretending to be the Knights jumped in to save their king.  Everyone soon ended up in a laughing pile; their voices echoing through the night lands.

            Seiji laughed as he walked into his room.  That was the most fun that he had in a long time.  Dressing out of his now dirt covered and torn clothes he crawled into bed and pulled the covers up to his chin smiling.  Quickly he fell to sleep, his mind drifting off to give him the answers that he sought.

            The dreamscape was the color red.  Turning he saw the red colored box floating in the air, suddenly it’s lid burst open and a small orb shot out of it and into the air.  The kanji symbol Toku (Virtue) shone brightly in it.  It hovered there for a moment then Seiji saw Ryo appear behind it balancing the orb in his palm.

            “Rekka no Yoroi!  Hono’o!” Came Ryo’s voice. (RW:  Armor of Wildfire!  Flame!  Not my story please!!

            The image before him was consumed in a blaze of fire and in the next moment the fire died down revealing Ryo decked out in samurai armor with two katana sheathed on his back.  He took one sword out then stabbing it into the ground knelt before Seiji.  The monk’s voice rang out.

            “Hitotsu tamashii sono vivaciousness no hi to issho ni.”  (A soul with the vivaciousness *sorry I don’t know the Japanese word for that* of fire.)

            The dreamscape changed and Seiji found himself in a light blue room looking at the color-coordinating box.  It’s lid, however, opened slowly and the orb gently floated out.  The kanji symbol of Shinrai (Faith/Trust) shone from it.  An image of Cye appeared behind it resting the orb on the end of one forefinger. 

            “Suiko no Yoroi! Taki!” Cye’s voice said.  (RW: Armor of Torrent!  Waterfall!)

            Water rushed over the image of Cye and then the color of the water flashed brightly and disappeared leaving Cye.  He was dressed in armor holding a tri-prong yari.  Holding his yari out in penance Cye knelt on one knee before Seiji.  The monk spoke again.

            “Hitotsu kosei onaji kurai hitotsu heisei umi yasashii.”  (A personality as gentle as the sea at calm.)

            An orange light washed over the dreamscape and the box appeared.  The orb erupted from its box with a surge of power.  Seigi (Justice) shone brightly in it.  Shuu appeared holding the orb in his cupped hand. 

            “Konga no Yoroi!  Jishin!” Shuu called.   (RW: Armor of Hardrock!  Quake!) 

            The ground started trembling and rock formations shot up, when they had ceased Shuu stood before him in armor.  He held a naginata in his hand.  He bowed low to Seiji as the monks voice spoke again.

            “Hitotsu yuki onaji kurai sono ishi tsuyoi.”  (A heart as strong as stone.)

            Dark blue light filtered into the room slowly changing the color of the dreamscape.  This one was different.  Instead of just the box first Rowen appeared before him holding the box protectively as if guarding it.  He turned his head up to Seiji opening his eyes the kanji Chie (Wisdom) flared on his forehead.  He nodded a bow.

            “Tenku no Yoroi.” He whispered then he disappeared leaving only the box as the monks voice came.  (RW:  Armor of Strata….*the word strata actually means a layer of rock.  Go figure.*)

            “Hitotsu Inochi onaji kurai sono kaze hayaku sugiru.” (A life as fleeting as the wind.)

            “Yoroi mamoru.  Kiki, Tenku no Rowen, kakomu.  Abunai.” (Protect the armor.  Danger surrounds RW: Rowen of the Strata.)

            A green light bathed the dreamscape and the last box appeared before him.  He waited but no image formed.  Reaching out Seiji touched the box.  It disappeared and the orb lighted upon his fingertips.  The kanji Teineisa (Courtesy) flared within it’s swirling depths.  It filled his head with knowledge giving him the words to say.

            “Korin no Yoroi!  Hikari!”  He shouted.   (RW: Armor of Halo!  Light!)

            A bright light engulfed him as armor started to appear on him until he was fully armed then the light faded away.  He shifted the weight of the no-datchi that he held.  It seemed so light in his grasp.  Seiji noted the extra handle hold built into the blade itself.  Then the voice of the monk sounded again.

            “Hitotsu meikai kokoru onaji kurai Akari hitotsu hitobito sendo.” (A mind as clear as light to lead the people.)

            “Warriors awake, seek forth your destiny among the battle of good and evil.”     


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